The driver of the oil truck hated driving through cities in order to refill gas station tanks. He preferred the highway route because it was smooth and easy, as long as you avoiding certain times of the day. City traffic was slow, miserable, and meant he spent hours moving at a snail's pace. Some cities were better than others, though. Of course that meant some cities were bitches and Metropolis was a bitch. Even with public transportation it was a city with ten million people wanting to get nowhere in particular in a hurry causing traffic to become a standstill.
He stopped at the umpteen red light on Avenue of America waiting for the red light to change to green. At this rate he'd be home by nine in the evening missing the chance to give his two year old daughter a kiss goodnight. Life wasn't fair sometimes. The light changed from red to green and he stepped on the accelerator right at the same moment an SUV came hurtling out of nowhere at his truck. Out of survival instincts since it headed for his windshield he turned the steering wheel and unfortunately aimed himself at the cross town traffic. He was going to crash and more than likely his truck would explode killing a great many people. There was no way out of this, so he closed his eyes and waited for the impact and wished he'd been able to see his wife and daughter one more time.
The impact never came, though. Suddenly, his truck felt as if it was moving strangely, almost like it was a boat floating in water. He opened his eyes to see that he was hovering above the traffic by a good forty or fifty feet. His truck moved slowly in the air until it was placed down in the middle of the cross section. Almost falling out of the cab of his truck, he went down onto his knees once he cleared his truck. It was then that he saw this guy in what looked like blue armor with a red cape and a red S on a field of yellow on his chest. This was the guy the newspapers and news called Superman floating in the air. He thought he was some sort of urban myth, but he wasn't.
Clark looked at the driver and nodded at him then he took off in a blur. Sergeant John Corben, who had once worn advanced military armor and attacked him under the orders of General Sam Lane, had returned to Metropolis. This time his armor appeared to be permanent instead of suit and his heart had been replaced by a Kryptonite powered cell that gave him increased strength, speed, and made him deadly to Superman. For some reason he was no longer under the command of the army, or Clark assumed, since he was destroying a midtown Metropolis street for no apparent reason other than to drawn Superman out. It succeeded.
Clark noticed that ten humvees started to block traffic and soldiers off loading. The soldiers started to quadrant off the area getting people out of their cars and to safety. For once they didn't seem to be there for him but for Corben. As cars was forced aside another humvee pulled up and two star General Sam Lane got out along with a captain and three soldiers to guard him. Clark floated over to him.
"I'm not here for you, Alien, but for Corben. He's gone mad and escaped a test facility," barked Lane.
"So much for making him into a weapon you can control," Clark sarcastically remarked.
Lane ignore his comments. His orders were specific that he shouldn't target Superman this time and even enlist his help if possible.
"Why don't you leave and let us handle this? This city seems to have given you immunity so I can't touch you... for now," replied Lane.
"Did you bring a replacement power source for Corben?" asked Clark.
"Yes, we did, Superman," answered the captain.
Lane scowled at him, but said nothing. He only wanted Clark to leave not help. It looked like he wasn't going to get his wish.
"There is only one way to stop Corben now. Once I destroy his power source, give him the new one. As long as it isn't Kryptonite, he won't be super powered, just dangerous," said Clark.
"We can handle him," said Lane.
"That would be nice for a change," Clark smirked then took off.
As Clark approached Corben he checked him out with his x-ray vision. Corben was now more machine than man. Limbs were completely removed and his head was surrounded by a layer of alloy 1090. Suddenly, he felt sorry for the man, though not enough to change his plan of attack. Staying away from Corben, who started lifting empty cars and tossing them Clark, he dodged the cars and concentrated a continuous stream of his heat vision releasing massive amounts of stored solar energy from his body.
Clark was glad that it was a sunny day, as this was draining to his body. Soon the mix of a composite alloy and carbon steel that protected the power source turned to liquid and ran down Corben's metal torso. Now the heat vision enveloped the Kryptonite cell. Clark kept the stream of solar energy going until he saw Corben drop a sedan then fall to his knees. He stopped his heat vision.
From a safe distance he saw that he changed the molecular structure of the green Krypton by overheating turning it into blue Kryptonite which was completely harmless to him. With that down, he felt how drained his body was and started to head up into the stratosphere as some of the citizens of Metropolis cheered him much to the disgust of General Lane. Leaving the cleanup and problem of Corben to the military, he continued higher and higher into the stratosphere then the mesosphere and the thermosphere until he reached the exosphere. He stopped there and floated as his body fed on the solar energy, while his armor formed a field around his head and fed him oxygen, even though he knew he could survive for at least an hour without the oxygen. Floating there with his eyes closed, his senses enjoyed the quiet.
At this height some 350 miles above earth, he didn't hear all the sounds and voices that he learned to tune out on a daily bases, yet still seeped into his consciousness. It wasn't often that he enjoyed true quiet. He could find it here above earth or at his Fortress of Solitude where his Kryptonian technology could keep sound from penetrating its defensive shields. Quiet, he had forgotten how wonderful it was. He take another fifteen or twenty minutes to recharge and enjoy the silence.
The Watchtower was the headquarters for the Justice League. Built with money from anonymous donors, but mainly Wayne Enterprises and Queen Industries, it was the most advanced space station earth had ever seen. Using technology from Thanagar and technology offered to the League by the Green Lantern Corp, it housed up to two hundred, had teleportation technology, gravity, defensive shielding, and a ion canon. The founding members of the Justice League chose to set their headquarters in space in order to avoid having to deal with countries claiming jurisdiction over them.
The Justice League was independent. It came into existence because of the invasion of a race known as the White Martians. J'onn J'onzz, known as the Martian Manhunter by the Guardians of the Galaxy because his race = which was related to the white martians - were killed off by them, came to earth to warn about them. He found allies in Batman, Wonder Woman, the Green Lanterns of the earth sector, the Flash, the Green Arrow, Hawkman and Hawkwoman, the Birds of Prey, and Aquaman. Together with the help of an unknown hero who the press later named Superman, they fought them off. J'onn agreed to stay on earth, as he was without a home, and the group, except for Superman, decided to form the Justice League to protect the earth. Superman merely flew off once the white martians were repelled.
The League set out rules for itself. It wouldn't help or interfere in a country's laws or sovereignty. If there was a natural disaster they would provide search and rescue assistance if asked, as well as clean up. If a country needed aid to fight off aliens, super enhanced creatures or villain, they would provide it. Of course, it was understood that the League was indemnified from the cost of property damage. In order to walk this fine line between beneficent NGO and potential invading presence, they asked for the status of non-member state permanent observer at the UN and the League was granted a seat in the assembly, where currently the Hawk and the Dove acted as their UN ambassadors.
Having such a position in the world meant that the League tended to keep an eye on non-member heroes, or vigilantes as some news services called them, making sure that their actions didn't overstep a certain line of behavior. The League didn't want to be painted with the same brush as those who didn't join the League, as they had no control over them. One non-aligned hero in particular they attempted to keep a close eye on and that was Superman.
"Computer, play the feed," said Hal Jordan.
In one of the smaller conference rooms, Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and Simon Baz – Green Lanterns all, as well as Aquaman, the Flash, Batman, Black Canary, Wonder Woman, J'onn, Hawkman, Hawkwoman, and Oliver Queen gathered to discuss Superman. They watched the news feed of the incident with John Corben. It ended with Superman rocketing into the sky.
"Impressive," said Hawkman.
"He did stay to help with the cleanup or check to see if there were injured," pointed out Simon Baz.
"I think we need to approach him again," said John Stewart. "He needs supervision."
The ex-marine didn't like someone as powerful as Superman acting without restraints. Stewart preferred for heroes to have strict discipline and live under a set of regulations.
"Why?" asked Batman.
"Because he acts based on his on set of rules and we don't know what those rules are. Plus, he's too damned powerful to leave unchecked. The Justice League could act as a counterbalance with him to make sure he never goes rogue," said Stewart.
"Join us or else, right, John," said Oliver sarcastically.
"You aren't going to make Superman one of your pet causes, are you?"
"If he deserves it I will," answered Oliver.
"May I speak?" asked the always polite alien.
"Of course, J'onn," said Diana. "We know that you have more information about this Superman than we do."
Stunning Amazon offered J'onn a friendly smile.
"I knew his race, Diana, but I don't know him. I know that what you call an S on his chest is actually his actually family's crest. He comes from the House of El. Once my people were killed, I spent some time on Krypton," said J'onn.
"Really," said Batman suddenly interested in the discussion. "Tell us what you know."
The green skinned alien looked at Batman and approximated a smile.
"Batman wishes information. You are always the detective," said J'onn.
"Habit," replied Batman.
"Kryptonians were a very advanced people. They were one of the older races, superior to many races, and in the end xenophobic because of their superiority. You see they ended up not trusting other races," he told them.
"Sound like fun people," remarked Oliver.
Hal laughed. Batman glared them both into quiet.
"They had a caste system. It was broken into the Religious, the Artist, the Warrior, and the Science. Those who were simple workers, such as farmers and such had no caste. The House of El came from the Science caste. They were some of Krypton's greatest scientists," he informed them.
"This Superman is a scientist," said John with doubt.
"I believe his father was Jor-El. I am making a guess here. I knew him. He was the most open minded Kryptonian I had ever met. I was allowed to stay at his house. He and his wife Lara treated me with respect and dignity," J'onn said.
"Okay, that's nice," said John, "but when I mentioned a Kryptonian was on earth, the Guardians told me to keep an eye on him. It almost seemed like they feared him."
"As I said they were a superior race, especially with technology," said J'onn. "Also, they lived under a red sun. There are few true red suns in the universe. You see Kryptonians look human but their DNA is extremely complex and their physiology so remarkable that their bodies store solar energy and solar radiation. A red sun made them remarkable, three or four times stronger than a normal human, with a long life and excellent health. Under a yellow sun, they become the equal, if not superior, to races such as the New Gods. The longer he lives under a yellow sun he will continue to grow in strength until he reaches full maturation."
"How long do you think that process takes?" asked Batman.
"100 or 200 years," answered J'onn.
"You mean this Superman has even come close to reaching full strength," said the Flash.
"More reason not to trust him and to reign him in," said John.
"You don't trust aliens in general, do you, John?" Katar Hol, Hawkman, spoke up.
"Don't try to make me out to be prejudiced, Katar," said John. "I know about prejudice."
"I am merely pointing out that it took you a long time to trust J'onn, Shayera, or me. We are all aliens," he said.
"Let's not get off topic here," said Arthur. "I don't feel like listening to arguing when I could be headed home to Atlantis."
"Would you trust this Superman, J'onn?" asked Diana.
"I would be inclined. You see part of the character of Kryptonians is aloofness, a certain coldness in their way of dealing with others and each other. Jor-El was a great man and for a Kryptonian friendly, but you would find him overly polite, somewhat arrogant and distant," J'onn said. "If this Superman is who I think he is then I would trust him."
"I trust him and his name is Kal-El," said Batman. "We should leave him alone."
The room was shocked. In many ways, Batman was the least trusting of the group, yet he was speaking up for Superman. There had to be a reason for this.
"Why do you trust him?" asked Simon.
"Because I've worked with him off and on over the past three years since the white martian incident. I even know his secret identity and he knows mine."
"I find that hard to believe. You're the one who demanded that we don't have to share our secret identities unless you won't to," said Hal.
"It's one of the few things I've totally agreed with you over the years," said Oliver.
"How did you get to know him, Batman?" asked Diana.
"He came to me for help with something. After my initial distrust and caution, I helped him. We've helped each other on non-Justice League matters ever since," Batman explained.
The help was with green Kryptonite. Clark knew there wasn't a massive amount of the rock on earth, but he knew there was some. He had taken the liberty of using his x-ray vision on Batman's cowl and knew who he really was. After the initial anger and distrust, Clark shared with Bruce his full story then asked him for help in collecting as much of the rock as possible. Bruce said yes on one condition and that was that he didn't destroy all the Kryptonite he found or purchased, but he was allowed to keep a small amount as a defense against Superman. Clark agreed. He told Bruce that he trusted him and if he ever should go rogue, someone should have the means to stop him. Bruce kept a ring fashioned out of Kryptonite in a lead lined container in his utility belt.
"Hey, J'onn, what happened to Krypton?" asked Oliver.
"The planet exploded from an unstable core. Jor-El had warned his people about this, but the Science Guild studied his findings and thought he was wrong. He was put under a ban even to speak about the subject," said J'onn, "but it appears he did do something about it. Krypton has long ago given up space travel, so they outlawed it for citizens. When I left Jor-El was self teaching himself how to build a space ship."
"He placed his newborn son in it and sent him off to earth, a planet he chose because of the yellow sun and his son would look like a resident," said Batman. "Superman was found by a couple who couldn't have children and raised him as their own. His adoptive father is dead, but I met his mother. Sweet woman."
"You two are chummy. Are you dating?" Oliver goaded Batman.
Bruce ignored him.
"I still say we should approach him again about joining the League," said John.
"I second it," added Simon Baz.
"We need to vote on it," said Hal.
"A show of hands," said John. "All in favor of approaching Superman to join the League."
John raised his hand followed by Hal, Simon, the Flash, Diana, the Black Canary, and then reluctantly Oliver Queen raised his hand. Batman glared at Oliver, who shrugged his shoulders.
"There is nothing wrong in asking," said Oliver.
"That's seven to six," said John. "We talk to him."
"I propose Oliver, Diana, and Flash to approach him," said Hal.
"He won't join, at least not until he trusts the League, which he doesn't," said Batman. "I wouldn't press it too hard. He really doesn't like to be pushed."
"Hey, my arrows would probably just bounce off him, so I won't be pushing too hard," said Oliver.
"Understood, Batman," said Diana.
Batman shook his head then got up and left the conference room.
"Remind if I have children not have Batman give them charm lessons," said Oliver.
As much as he possible could manage, Clark liked to come back to Smallville, Kansas and his family's farm. His mother still ran the farm with the help of several hired workers. Clark came on weekends and made repairs, checked on the workers' work, and often got their work ahead of schedule. He landed Friday night at three in the morning, leaving the City with Broad Shoulders, Metropolis, behind for a few days. Clark even informed Lois Lane, his new boss since her promotion when Morgan Edge took over the Planet and expanded it into a Cable News Channel, also, that he was unavailable until Monday morning.
He slept for a few hours then came down from his room dressed in jeans, white tee shirt and a loose fitting plaid work shirt. The smell of sausage and pancakes permeated the air bringing a smile to his mouth. Walking into the kitchen, he saw his mother cooking away.
"Orange juice is on the table. Sit down and I'll have your breakfast ready for you in a sec," she said.
He sat down at the kitchen table and took a sip of the orange juice. The sun nourished him more than food, but he liked to eat. He grew up eating the hearty food his mother made and eating became part of his life. His mother brought over a stack of nine pancakes smothered in maple syrup and six sausages for him. She placed it down and watched him dip into it.
"I'm glad your home for few days, Clark," she said.
"Good to be home, ma," he said.
After breakfast, he started to work on the engine of the tractor. If it wasn't for the fact that hired workers would report it, he'd replace the motor with Kryptonian tech that didn't need gas to run on. Instead he had to fix what what was broke.
As he worked on the carburetor, he heard a car pull up. From the purr of the engine he guessed it was an expensive Italian sports car. He stood up and turned to see Bruce Wayne get out of a sleek black Italian sports car. Wearing a black Armani suit, Bruce walked into the barn where Clark was working.
"You like to fix things, Kent?" Bruce said as he entered.
"I like things to run well and I can't afford to buy my mother a new tractor," he said. "What are you doing here, Bruce?"
"Call it a warning," said Bruce. "I wanted to let you know face to face that you'll be getting a visit from from of the members of the Justice League. They are going to ask you to join."
Clark chuckled to himself. Ever since they formed the Justice League had been keeping eye on him. He knew it. Clark didn't mind it, except for the fact that it was equal parts fear and admiration which drove them to keep an eye on him. He was twenty-five and he still hadn't become inured with the way some thought of him. When he first appeared on the scene General Lane managed to take him captive and he and Lex Luthor experimented on him until he regained his powers then he tore apart the facility they kept him caged up in. Since then he preferred to work alone, except for Batman. He liked Bruce.
"I'm the last son of Krypton, Bruce; I think working alone suits me," he said.
"I used to think that. Now in Gotham City I have Nightwing, Red Robin, Batgirl, and others working with me now and again. I'm a part timer for the Justice League, and I work with you now and again. I'm not much of loner these days," said Bruce.
"How is Tim? What is he now 18?" asked Clark.
"18 going on 40. I'm twenty-six and sometimes I think he is older than me," said Bruce.
"Dick and Barbara?"
"Dick is 22 and no longer listens to me. He's joining the League even though I told him he's better off staying on his own. Barbara is the same age as Dick but without the resentment and attitude," said Bruce.
"Dick is just feeling his oats," said Clark.
"Oats? Really, Clark?"
"Really," he replied with a smile.
Bruce shook his head then he checked his watch.
"I should get going. It's almost one," said Bruce.
"You came all this way just to warn me," smiled Clark, "so the least I can do is offer you lunch."
"I wasn't expected, Clark. It would be an inconvenience."
"If I didn't bring you in to eat and say hello then ma would be upset with me," said Clark. "They'll be enough food. She was cooking for me."
Bruce turned sideways and bowed with his left arm and hand pointed towards the barn door.
"After you, farm-boy," he said.
Clark laughed. He tossed down the wrench and shut and started walking towards the barn door. Through the barn door, he noticed once again his Italian sports car.
"Nice car," Clark remarked.
"I know," replied Bruce as he walked beside Clark. "When my private jet landed, it was waiting for me at the airport. Alfred must have arranged it for me. I'm supposed to be here visiting a Wayne Enterprises Project where some scientists are developing a form of wheat that could grow with little water."
"It must be nice being rich," smiled Clark.
"I've got no complaints. It pays the bills," Bruce said with a smirk.